Friday, 8 November 2019

Making Mealtimes Relaxing and Enjoyable

Mealtimes can be stressful for some parents. It can be frustrating to spend an hour in the kitchen cooking, only to watch your baby throw the food on the floor or paint the table with it five minutes later. I've had some hectic days myself. I can't solve these problems for you, but here are some things that helped us. 

The most important piece of advice: try not to stress about it. Babies and children sense when you are tense, nervous, angry, and they test limits in these situations. They need to see calm, respectful parents, who can handle anything that's coming their way. In the first few months, babies have the occasion to explore and experiment with food, without having to eat that much - because they're still breastfeeding or on formula. So this is the time to let them explore and get interested in food, while you are observing.

The second piece of advice has to do with WHEN you serve a meal. Make a clear routine around snacks and main meals. Find the best time for your child to eat, and try to follow the same sequence of events that leads to that. For example, every morning when my daughter wakes up, we read a book, she breastfeeds, then I change her diaper, wash her face, she brushes her teeth, then go get some groceries, then have breakfast. Routines add predictability and children feel safe when they can anticipate what will happen next. Also, routines make it easier to learn the rules around mealtimes.

The third piece of advice is about WHERE your child eats. It's important to always eat at the table, because it creates healthy eating habits, your child is more focused on eating (no toys around), and it is safer when it comes to choking. Whether you choose a weaning table (a small table and chair, so that your child can get in and out independently - I'll write a separate post about our weaning table soon) or use the family table and a feeding chair, it's up to you, your needs and your baby's preferences. We have both - we use the weaning table for snack time, and the high chair for main meals. That way, I can eat with her. While she's having her snack, I sit on a cushion next to her weaning table.

E's weaning table (IKEA shortened Lack and a cube chair)
The fourth piece of advice is about HOW to feed your baby. I wanted to start with Baby Led Weaning, but it seemed that my daughter had other plans. I got a bit scared when she gagged on a tiny piece of chicken breast, so I decided to try a combination of purees and BLW. You should follow your child, then choose what style of feeding fits her - spoon feeding, BLW, purees, every child is unique and what might go for one, might not for another. What I really like about BLW is that it promotes healthy eating habits - babies are capable human beings, who can decide when they've had enough to eat. From the beginning, I let her use her hands whenever she wanted to and it was possible, and when we had soup or other liquids, I pre-loaded the spoon for her, but let her take it to her mouth. That way, she was in control.

“our baby feels respected and valued when she is asked to actively participate in a feeding experience with us rather than just being fed” (Excerpt From Elevating Child Care: A Guide To Respectful Parenting - Janet Lansbury)

This brings me to the question: "HOW MUCH to feed your baby?". Babies don't need us to shove a spoon in their mouths or bribe them to eat. They need to be in control of how much they eat. What works best for us is that we put a small portion for her, but have more in the pot. Once she has finished, we give her more. That way, she doesn't feel pressured to empty her plate or overwhelmed by the amount of food. We can consider ourselves lucky - at least at the moment, she eats extremely well and she always wants more.

“We want to trust our babies to be in charge of their appetites, to indicate a desire for food by opening their mouths when we present them with a bite or spoonful. “Here comes the airplane” or “Just one more bite” coaxing can turn feeding into something our babies do to please us. It can encourage overeating”. (Excerpt From Elevating Child Care: A Guide To Respectful Parenting - Janet Lansbury)

One last thing. This can be tough, especially if you have more than one child, work from home, or just have a lot of work in general. Try to be present and engaged during mealtimes. These moments can help you create a connection with your child.

I hope this blog post doesn't sound condescending. It's not my intention. And I'm definitely not trying to say that the way I feed my child is the best. These are just some things that probably helped in our situation, but it might be just that our daughter loves eating and it's not something we did that helped.

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